Sunday 27 March 2011

Always read the label

I'm struggling with yet another cold at the moment, which has somewhat curtailed my wildlifey wanderings. Recently, my most athletic activity has been squeezing oranges for fresh juice. 

However, safe in the knowledge that every cloud has a silver lining, I'm sat at home staring out of the window into the garden.

Editorial note: I am informed, by those who know, that fluffy white clouds aren't as friendly on the inside. In fact, if they do have a lining of precious metal, it's because someone has seeded them with silver iodide to make it rain.

So what's been visiting Tense Towers to cheer up the curmudgeonly old scrote?

Well, one or two Brimstone butterflies, which is always a joy. Sadly, none of them stayed for any length of time, certainly not long enough for me to shuffle off to fetch my camera and take a photograph. A male Blackcap came to the seed feeder this morning, but again, it was whilst I was sans camera. 

This little fellow turned up, and had the decency to loiter around whilst I fired up the Canon. My first sighting of the year for a Bee fly.

I had always assumed that they were predators of their eponymous brethren, as we have often watched them following the movements of bees. But it seems that they aren't intent upon ramming the unsuspecting bee from behind with that fiercesome-looking proboscis after all. The adult Bee fly feeds on nectar, so may simply be following a bee in the hope that it will lead to a food source. Alternatively, it could be attempting to locate a nest where it can lay its eggs, as the larvae parasitise solitary bees.

It's a little known fact (cue blatant lie), that this behaviour was first described in the lyrics of a well known music hall song from 1907, which originally had a chorus that went:

Oh I do like to be beside the Bee fly,  
I do like to be beside the bee, 
I do like to photograph with a Click! Click! Click!
Where the Brimstones play,
But be quick, quick, quick.
So just let me be beside the Bee fly,
I'll be beside myself with glee,
Where there's only one girl who resides,
That I should like to be beside,
Beside the Bee fly, 
Beside the bee.

Whatever the reason for the Bee fly's strategy, it should not be confused with this, which is a very different aerial creature altogether.

You're right, dear reader, I need to check the dosage instructions on my cold remedy.

Interestingly, on Friday, I was given a good piece of advice on how to treat the common cold. The only two requirements are a hat and a bottle of whisky. Treatment involves placing the hat on the end of your bed, clambering into bed and drinking the whisky... until the hat moves.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Equinoctial ramblings

Not such a warm day, but it was the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the official start of Spring.

We visited Linford Lakes in the morning, where the Chiffchaffs were calling to welcome in the new season.

The flowers, too, were keen to show that life is being renewed before our eyes. The Lesser Celandines have been out for a while, whilst these were our first Coltsfoots (Coltsfeet?) of the year.

In the afternoon, we headed down to Walton Lake and were greeted by warm sunshine. A few Mallard ducks loitered by a viewing platform and I took the opportunity to focus on the bright wing feathers (or speculum) of both male and female.

Our visit was punctuated by a few Comma butterflies, though as it was chillier today, this was the only species seen.

And let's not forget, the flight season for dragons and damsels is only a month away!

The Wind in the Ashes

Lazy arse that I am, I'm writing this post in bed, as through the window, I monitor the progress of two Crows in an Ash tree by the old canal towpath.

It's not yet eight o'clock on Sunday morning. I didn't sleep well and though I don't feel tired, neither do I feel like rising and running headlong at the day.

Bed is a good vantage point to watch the Crows. For the past few weekend mornings, we've seen them perched in the same tree when we first open the curtains. They're definitely a pair, happy spending time together, as perhaps you might at this time of year. On sunny mornings, they sit at the top of the tree, facing into the new day, their glossy black feathers soaking up the golden light until you think they might spontaneously combust with all that heat.

There's a certain amount of cawing, as you might expect, but much, much more in the way of tail flicking. From just the right angle, this has the effect of producing a bold, dark, fan shape, as if they're portraying some aged, life-embittered widows in a period drama.

Occasionally, over the last month or so, a few twigs have been carried into the tree. This has seemed a half-hearted endeavour at best, which made us think that they were either new to this breeding malarkey or undecided as to whether this was a good nest site. Whilst the late winter winds have produced a surfeit of broken branches on the ground, our two erstwhile nest builders have been more concerned with trying to break off perfectly healthy twigs, still very much attached to trees. I appreciate that these would make much more sturdy foundations for a home to raise one's family, but frankly, just worrying away at it with the occasional peck isn't going to have the desired result.

However, my cynicism seems to be unfounded, as this morning, twig after twig has been transported into the Ash tree. Whether this means that a decision has been reached, as regards a nest site, is still open to question. Unlike the adjacent tree, this particular Ash still retains many bunches of keys from last year, so it is still too difficult to judge whether there is a growing conglomeration of twiggyness. We'll consider this a work in progress and see what develops.

Yesterday was a peach of a Spring day. It began with one of those frosty, bright mornings that somehow creep into your slumbers through the heavy curtains and wake you up earlier than normal, even for a week day let alone a Saturday. All thoughts of chores went out of the window, in a reciprocal arrangement with the sunlight flooding in.

Never mind "Hang spring cleaning!", this particular morning came with a stay of execution signed by the goddess Oestre herself.

Our Lass was not to be persuaded to forego breakfast however, so I ventured out alone, as the warm rays of the sun dispelled the last of the frost from the ground. In the mood for woods and hedgerows, I wandered the field margins to Little Linford Wood and out along the ridge. Standing a while by a ruined stone barn, I soaked up the sounds of the birds around me. A flock of Tree Sparrows with their flat chirrups, a Wren with its glorious fanfare and Yellowhammers, er... hammering out their signature tune of "A little bit of bread and no cheese". There was just one brief glimpse of a Hare, as it shot across a field, put to flight by dog walkers.

Back home again, it was time to reclaim the conservatory. Through the Winter, it had become more of a garden shed, full of mud, cobwebs and bits of dead plants. A thorough dusting, vacuum cleaning and washing ensued, so that by late afternoon, it was possible to sit in the glow of a job well done and the gentle rays of a rosy sun.

A final potter of the day saw us walk along the canal to watch the full moon rise over the eastern horizon. Whilst a day early, this seemed a fitting way to mark the equinox.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

It's enough to drive you to... poetry

Currently, there's some horrific scenes of death and destruction from around the world, some natural, some man made. And what is exercising the minds of the British public?

Perspective, people, perspective.

For the record, I'm a crotchety, middle-aged bloke, who is deaf in one ear.
And I think Wonders of the Universe is just dandy as it is.

Dear Professor Brian Cox,
Your tv programme universally rocks.
Stunning visuals, simple experiments,
Gorgeous scenery, soundtrack immense,
Informative, entertaining, a cinematic treat,
All accessible to the man in the street.
Points well made, perfectly put,
A carefully crafted package, but...

There are those who don't like all your toys,
Who'll complain about sound, calling it noise.
So the Beeb responds and turns it down,
Lest your enthusiastic muse, our ears drown.
Is it decibel level, a judgement in haste? 
Or do they not share in your musical taste?
This small minority that could just turn over,
And not diminish even one super nova.

I'll have to content myself with the knowledge that somewhere in the multiverse, there's a broadcasting corporation playing this programme at full, unadulterated volume. Sigh.

Sunday 13 March 2011

The boys are back in town

Presumably heading back north, these male Siskins were a welcome sight in the garden this morning.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Unsticky situation

At work today, a colleague was busy building and testing a piece of equipment in one of the workshops. I was at the other side of the room, checking on shortages in another kit, when I needed his advice about one particular component.

Not looking up, or turning round, I blithely asked my question, to be answered by some rather fruity language.

My colleague was attempting to fix an item in place with super glue, but I had spoken at just the wrong moment and as he turned to answer me, he missed the opportunity to hold the item stationary for those vital few seconds to allow the glue to set.

Still blithely unaware of the situation and more than used to the odd expletive creeping into the conversation, I repeated my question, only for the same thing to happen again. More swearing, fortunately directed at the glue and not me.

Finally I cottoned on to what was happening and allowed my colleague the chance to finish his adhesive task, before commenting,

"Is that solvent abuse, do you think?"

Sorry, Captain Sundial :o(

Monday 7 March 2011

The Ogress of Progress, part 2

There are many different opinions as regards what it is that makes us human, the prime characteristic that has given us the edge over other species of hominid and which, more than any other, sets us apart from the rest of the natural world.

Speech? Self awareness? Greater intelligence? These are all noble facets of the human jewel.

Our prowess at harnessing technology, to free ourselves from the drudge and hard work of living, has supposedly given us more time to spend on recreation and enjoyment. Whilst these are admirable goals, I fear that we have lost sight of our destination, blinded by shiny toys and deafened by the clamouring white noise of greed.

It seems that everything has to be instant, whether it's coffee or mashed potato or access to the latest celebrity gossip. There's no value in waiting for a more considered, life-enhancing experience.

Buy now, pay later! It simply wouldn't do to save up for an object of desire, so that once purchased, we might have the wherewithal to savour the ownership. We can know the price of everything, yet value nothing.

Hundreds of tv channels, every day spouting forth 24 hours of... what exactly?

We have evolved into Homo impatiens, the ape that invented boredom.
I need a pizza, now!

Sunday 6 March 2011

Worrying about hare loss

Just about a year ago, I had some luck in capturing images of Brown Hares on agricultural land to the north of the city. As a firm believer in the seasonal and cyclical nature of all things, it was time to put on my boots and head out for the morning, hoping to catch views of a female "boxing" away the unwanted attentions of a male.

As I parked the car, I could see a tractor crossing and recrossing one of the fields in which I hoped to spot the hares. Bother. To make matters worse, there was an easterly breeze, which would blow my scent towards the area in question. Double bother.

Changing plan slightly, I walked through Little Linford Wood, a Wildlife Trust site, to the opposite side of the ridge, planning to traverse west in an anti-clockwise circle, to return to the ridge downwind and away from the farmer's tractor.

In the valley at the bottom of the wood, I was fortunate to spot a Little Owl, roosting on an old barn.

As I walked up the valley, a Little Egret passed me, going in the opposite direction, perhaps to a pool lower down the brook.

Another reason for my trip was to make the most of the habitat, as there are several threats to this area of land. The first of these is the proposal to erect a wind farm along the ridge, with several turbines up to 450' in height. Currently, the only sign of this scheme is an anemometer, gathering wind speed data. In the background, across the other side of the river valley, is the TV tower for the city.

At some point soon, I will have to return to the subject of wind farms, a topic which presents me with something of a dilemma. They are one of several environmental solutions to our energy needs, though this positive benefit is countered by the negative impact they can have on the ecology of their immediate environment.

Moving west along the top of the ridge, there was still no sign of a hare. However, a small flock of chirruping birds flew over my head and landed on top of a hedge. Tree Sparrows!

There were several flocks of Skylarks in the fields and I spotted four Pied Wagtails foraging on a muck heap. Dropping back into the valley on the north side of the ridge, I passed a farm that is the other cause of concern in the area. Hedges have been grubbed out and fences removed to create larger fields with fewer margins. If you can pardon the pun, dear reader, this overtly commercial approach goes against the grain at a time when environmental stewardship should be the norm. I was heartened to discover that the situation was not as awful as first thought. The hedges that were removed appeared to have been one side of a double row, so at least one row remained as habitat for all the Red and Amber List species I was seeing on my walk.

As I meandered back along the side of the valley, the hedgerows were full of new growth, including Dog's Mercury, that ubiquitous indicator of ancient woodland.

A fallen log showed signs of at least some mammalian activity, presumably the claw marks of a Badger.

The tractor activity seemed to have ceased, so I climbed the ridge once more, and had a fortuitous encounter with a few Yellowhammers, though there were far fewer of these than their Reed Bunting cousins.

Scanning the ridge with my binoculars, it became obvious that there were no hares to be seen, so I reluctantly headed back to the woods, alongside the field where the farmer had been working. Suddenly, not one, but two, creatures emerged cautiously from the wood, uncertain whether it was now safe to do so. They were some distance from me, but had the good grace to appear at the same time and in the same location. One hare and one Muntjac Deer.

So whilst close up pics of "boxing" were not possible, I was simply pleased to have seen a hare at all.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Pond aroma tale

During lunch break on Pond Cleaning Day, we were visited by a pair of Pied Wagtails. They seemed happy pottering around the lawn in the rain, though the Chaffinches looked a bit confused.

"He's emptied the pond down to the liner, and NOW you show up?"

These two images are of the same bird, I believe, as on checking back through my photos, I did not have images of the other one. What a numpty.

Whether their appearance was related to the emptying of the pond, or more precisely, the heaps of mud about the garden, I don't know. Certainly, all the borders had a generous helping of pond goo, so the place stank to high heaven and our resident Dunnocks haven't been seen since!